Sibling Acting As Parent

Dear Sara,

When our parents died ten years ago in a car crash I became the caregiver for my brother who was almost ten at the time. I have basically been raising him on my own. I have a job and we are doing OK financially and he will inherit a trust fund when he turns twenty-one. He is now a senior in high school and he thinks he knows more than me. He wants to be in charge of himself and doesn’t want to answer to me saying “you’re not my mother.” He has stayed out until two a.m. a couple of times, sometimes on a school night. I realize he will be going off to college soon but I don’t think he should have complete freedom yet. How do I rein him in until then?

Dear Alexandra,

The best way to make sure he follows the rules is to have some consequences if he doesn’t. If he wants to use your car when he goes out then he will need to follow whatever curfew you set for him. If you provide spending money then he needs to follow your rules or no money. Apparently, he still needs rules and guidance and it’s not unusual for a kid this age to push his limits just to see what he can get away with. Be fair and give him reasonable limits for his age. He may get angry and try to test you but don’t back down. He will be on his way soon to college enough.

Helping Family

Dear Sara,

I have raised my family and they all seem to be doing well on their own. My younger brother’s wife has terminal cancer and he has asked me if I would help him take care of his two kids ages ten and twelve when she dies. He lives in another state and I would have to go there and live with him. I’ve been divorced for a while and have a social group where I live. I dread the thought of moving to a new place and I really don’t know my brother’s two children very well because they grew up in another state. I don’t want to let my brother down but I also don’t want to move away from my home and friends. Is it OK to tell my brother I can’t do this?

Dear Jill

This is a lot to ask of you. I know your brother is in a terrible place right now, losing his wife and being on his own with two kids is really scary for him. Why don’t you offer to come and stay with him and his family for a couple of weeks while he gets through the worst of things and then help him to find someone qualified to take care of his family? You have raised your own family and you deserve to have your own time for yourself. If your kids start their own families you will want to be there with them to enjoy and spoil your grandchildren. Your brother is going through a difficult time right now so be patient with him but it’s OK to live your own life.

Parents Are Getting Divorced

Dear Sara,

I am sixteen years old and I am feeling overwhelmed. My parents just told me they are getting a divorce. They seem to get along fine and I don’t hear them arguing. I just don’t understand this at all. The only thing that I can see is that my Dad wants to take a job on the West coast and my Mom makes good money where we live now. Dad has a good job here but I don’t think he makes as much money as Mom. I don’t really want to move either since I will be a junior next year and I would like to graduate with my friends. How can I get my parents to stay together?

Dear Kaitlin,

This may be something that may be beyond your control. Probably the only thing you can do is to plead with your parents to go to family therapy. They both think that they are right and this is why they are planning a divorce. Maybe if they try therapy they could come to some kind of compromise. There may also be problems that they haven’t shared with you.

If the worst happens and they get a divorce you could stay with your Mom and finish high school and visit with your father in the summer. I hope things work out for the best for you.

Childs First Car

Dear Sara,

My almost sixteen-year-old son wants a car for his birthday. I have been trying to teach him to drive and I really don’t think he is ready to be on his own. He thinks “all of his friends have cars.” I’m pretty sure this isn’t true. He also seems somewhat immature for his age although he thinks otherwise. He knows we can afford the car but I feel like he would be off with no supervision and can get himself in trouble. How can I slow him down?

Dear Cameron,

Does your son think that you should provide car, car insurance and gas for him? Maybe he needs a lesson in how the real world works. Let him know that he has to work to earn his car. He can get a part-time job and start putting money away. If you want to pay for part of it give him the amount that you will provide and let him earn the rest on his own.

Your his father and you know what your son is capable of doing. If you give him a car against your better judgment and he gets hurt you won’t be able to forgive yourself.

Fighting For Custody

Dear Sara,

I was divorced two years ago and the judge awarded custody of my seven-year-old son to his mother. The last couple of times I picked him up for our weekly visits, he has been dirty. He looked like he hadn’t had a bath or changed clothes in several days. The glimpse I had of the living room wasn’t so clean either. While my ex works, the woman down the street watches him and she has three children of her own. I know it’s summer and the kids play outside but I would think my ex could clean him up to come and visit me. Last time I picked him up we went to Walmart and I bought him a pair of shorts, T-shirt and underwear and gave him a bath before we went out to eat. I wanted custody from the beginning but the judge disagreed. Do you think I should apply for custody?

Dear Mark,

Maybe you should talk to your ex-wife and try to figure out what is going on. Kids get dirty pretty quick and she may have tried to clean him up earlier in the day. If you think there is neglect going on you might want to take a few pictures to have some proof. If your son is well fed and has adequate supervision being dirty might not be a big enough issue to gain custody. If you find other signs of abuse or neglect you might have a better reason to ask for custody.

Struggling Single Dad

Dear Sara,

My wife died three years ago with cancer and I am trying to raise three girls by myself. They are nine eleven and thirteen. The nine-year-old seems to be doing OK but the other two are either in tears or arguing about what kind of clothes they can wear. I feel like they need a mother but I am not ready to marry again and the girls probably wouldn’t accept another woman. I am at a loss about all of this puberty business. So far I am managing but I feel like I am not doing a very good job.

Dear Ethan,

All teens have their ups and downs and teen girls are often dramatic. It sounds like even though you are unsure of yourself that you are coping with the problems. You are the girls’ father and they need for you to be strong and dependable for them. You may make a few mistakes along the way but as long as you are there emotionally for your girls everything will work out for you and for them. They need that steadying influence. Get them into a routine and stick with it so they can know what’s happening next. Have rules for them so that they will know what to expect. They will not always be happy with you but if you are there for them to depend on they will love you.

Hyperactive Child

Dear Sara,

I have a two-year-old son and I now know what “terrible twos” means. He has temper tantrums if he doesn’t get his way. He is into everything if I don’t watch him constantly. He will pull everything out of the drawers or cabinets if I don’t catch him first and he can’t be trusted in the yard because the minute I turn my back he is down the street. I want to take him to the park but I am afraid he will run off and I won’t be able to find him. His attention span is very short so he’s hard to keep occupied. The only time I have a break is nap time. How do I cope with this constant activity?

Dear Abigail,

The first thing you need to do is ignore his temper tantrums. If your son gets his way by having them they will surely continue. You are rewarding him for being bad if you let him have his way. He will eventually learn that his tantrums won’t work.

He needs one room that is baby proof and has gates to keep him in. It can be a place where you can read or watch television while he plays but you won’t have to pay constant attention to him.

Your son needs to be outside when weather permits to use up some of that energy. If you can’t have a fenced yard you might consider a harness to keep him safe.

This isn’t unusual behavior for a two-year-old but if it continues you might want to have him evaluated for hyperactivity. There are meds for this and may be necessary to help him concentrate in school.

Punishing Teens

Dear Sara,

I have a son who is sixteen years old. He does not want my opinion on anything. He argues with me about everything I say to him and doesn’t want to help with chores. He is better with his Dad but when Dad isn’t home he can be really disrespectful. I try really hard to get along with him but he doesn’t want me around. His Dad is in charge of his allowance and use of the car so I really don’t have many ways to punish him. Is there any way to discipline him for acting this way?

Dear Holly,

I am wondering how you and your son got into this pattern of behavior. Teens often go through a phase where they are trying to proclaim their independence. He is being very disrespectful to you and I am wondering what is going on there since he is not this way with his Dad. You don’t seem to be sharing this with Dad or Dad doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem. Is Dad disrespectful to you as well?

If you have been hovering over your son and telling what to do at every step of the way, you may need to back off and let him do things his way. If his father is OK with your son behaving this way you have a more serious problem. Family therapy might be a good idea but it is doubtful that your husband and son would cooperate. If you don’t have a job try to find some outside interests. Join the gym or try to find some hobby that will keep you busy.

Good luck.

Absent Husband

Dear Sara,

My husband and I have been married for ten years. We have three kids ages three to nine. Two years ago he was offered a job that paid way more money but he has to travel overseas. Sometimes we get to talk on the phone but I really don’t feel like I have a husband anymore and the kids are basically growing up without a father. His brother is one of those guys who knows how to fix anything and he comes over a lot to help out and often stays for dinner. The kids like him a lot and they enjoy it when he plays with them. I am very attracted to him and I think he feels the same way. Nothing has happened so far. This could be a big mess. What can I do?

Dear Nicole,

It sounds like you know better than to let something like this happen. The main problem is that you are lonely and having your husband’s brother there helps keep you from feeling this way. Your husband needs to know how you feel. He may end up having to choose between his lucrative job and his family. This is a lot to ask of him but his absences are too hard on you and your kids. Explain to him how your relationship is deteriorating and that your kids need for him to be in their life. This is important to you so make sure he knows how you feel.

Dealing With A Bad Boyfriend

Dear Sara,

My daughter is seventeen. She has a part-time job at a local fast food place and she is saving up to buy a car. The problem is that she is infatuated with a guy who is probably mid-twenties who has a bad reputation. I know he smokes marijuana and I suspect heavier stuff. He has plenty of money and doesn’t seem to have a job. I have forbidden her to see him but friends have said they see him where she works. I asked her about this and she said she can’t keep him from coming into the restaurant. Is there any way I can keep them apart?

Dear Brian,

Aside from making her quit her job, you aren’t going to have much control of your daughter here and that probably isn’t a good idea. She is going to be eighteen soon and you won’t have much control then. Teen crushes are pretty typical and sometimes lead kids down the wrong path. Your daughter sounds like a pretty mature girl who has a job and is saving for a car. One thing you can’t control is her feelings. You can explain to her why you don’t like this young man and hope that she has enough sense to see what kind of person he is. If you find out he is doing something illegal you can report him to the police. You are doing the best you can for now.